Happy February! Winter's halfway over and according to the good 'ol groundhogs, we should expect an early spring. I have just finished reading "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" by Kim Edwards. It's about a doctor who delivers his own twin babies in the early 60's. He gives away one child, after discovering she has down syndrome. The worst part is, he gives the baby away to be instutionalized, telling his wife that the baby died. The nurse who was asked to take the baby to the facility decided to raise the baby on her own because she couldn't bear to leave her in a such a demeaning environment.
As a mother, this book caught my attention because I couldn't believe this doctor gave his child away. I could never do that. Children are precious gifts that are meant to be loved and nourished, to say the least. As the story unfolds, we are told that the doctor's movtivation behind this was losing his only sister at a young age due to a heart defect. He fears that this baby girl will not grow up healthy because of her "expected" disability and wants to spare his wife any heartache.
I immediately gathered that this doctor was a selfish coward, who needed good therapy. The nurse did the heroic thing by raising her and proving that the child could be loved. However, I think she was selfish as well. In the beginning of the novel, the author explains that she "was thirty one, and she had been waiting a long time for her life to begin". She welcomed this as an opportunity. Nontheless, she secretly loved this man and thought this wonderful child deserved a chance to be raised like other children. She did love Phoebe as her own child and the doctor had plenty of chances to come clean with his wife. Who knows, if his wife had not made arrangements for a memorial service, maybe he would have. Caroline (the nurse) told him that she kept the baby and he still wanted no part of her. As part of his guilty conscience, he sent cash to her every year or whenever the nurse decided to send him a photo of Phoebe. Time and time again, he could have said Norah(the wife), I made a mistake, here's our daughter. But he didn't. Sadly, the mother did not find out about her until 20 some odd years later and after his death. She pined over that child for many years, which forced her to neglect the emotions of the other child (Paul) still "living". She eventually became more independent by working outside of the home and starting her own business. But does that necessarily make her a strong woman? I don't think so. She had numerous affairs because she and Henry lived together without ever really find out who they both were. Paul suffered the most out of all of this because his parents didn't reach out to him emotionally. Phoebe as doomed as she was, ended up with a better life. She enjoyed a childhood with unconditional love and of course there were challenges. However, Caroline never gave up on giving her the experience of going to school and riding a bike like other kids. Paul never felt like his mother had time for him or that he was better off dead like his sister.
Some may say that the story would not have been a good book if the truth were revealed in the beginning, The characters could have been opened up more if they had. Maybe the nurse and doctor's hidden feelings for each other would have been revealed. Or the doctor would have discovered that wife had a sister who suffered from the same condition and never gotten a chance to meet her. Even, the nurse and the mother becoming good friends, raising the child together...who knows? Paul definitely wouldn't have been so conflicted. But then he, probably wouldn't discovered his musical talents either, because that was his focus of living each day. I really think that the mother would have stepped up to the plate and handled having a child with down syndrome. That's what being a parent is really about, taking care of your children and seeing that they do their best : ) The story was really interesting and a little sad. It reminded me of a book I read once by Alice Seybold, "The Lovely Bones". That book was told from a dead girl's point of view. The characters in the book could be perceived as souls looking at their lives from a distance.
The title was brilliant. At first I thought the memory keeper was the wife because she could never forget this child she never saw or held. She relives the night of the births over and over throughout the years. But the doctor is the true memory keeper. He himself never really grieved the lost of his sister, which therefore led him to live as someone other than himself. His hobby of capturing life moments with his camera, was a way to lock away memories. In the end, we find out that he took photos of girls, who were the same age as his daughther. Too bad, he couldn't have gotten the courage to tell his wife and meet his daughter. He so badly wanted to forget his misdeed, but ended up losing himself and his family in the midst of it.
Although this story was fiction, it mirrors the tales of many children like that born to families back then. Many, many secrets are harbored out of fear and shame. I think that sometimes, we forget to relax a little and enjoy life. I've always been told that God wouldn't give you anything, that you can't handle. We just have to believe it. I could go on and on, but I think I've said enough. As a tribute to black history month, look for my blog on Edward P. Jones, "The Known World". I anticipate this will be a great read! Please feel free to leave comments and questions.